It’s a tall task to defeat the defending Stanley Cup Champions in a first round matchup. It’s even tougher when there are other intangibles thrown into the mix.
In perhaps a preview of how the rest of the series is set to go, Game 2 was seemingly the Blues against the world. From having a goal disallowed due to a controversial offside to losing a goaltender interference challenge that would have kept the game tied at a pivotal point, everything went Chicago’s way Friday in St. Louis. The outcome was a 3-2 loss and a knotted series heading into Games 3 and 4 in Chicago.
“We are going to have to fight,” said head coach Ken Hitchcock. “When you play the defending Cup Champions, you are going to have to fight through a lot of stuff and that’s the way it is. I have been there on the other side of things. The calls aren’t going to go your way, you are not going to get the officiating you want, it’s always going to seem like it’s one sided. Big deal. Fight through it.”
Hitchcock didn’t mince words after the game. He ’tried’ to hide the meaning, albeit rather poorly, because he didn’t have a choice, but the coach had the perfect proof to backup the idea that he was alluding to. The Game 2 loss summed it up perfectly.
“To win this series, we are going to have to fight through more than just Chicago,” said Hitchcock. “They are a hell of a hockey club. They have a lot of information on how to win. But there are other elements there that we are going to have to fight through. We are going to have to fight to find a way to do it. If we are going to beat them, we are going to have to be better in a lot of elements and know that we are going to get calls that aren’t going to go our way.”
The Blues didn’t have enough time to fight back Friday after having the wind knocked out of their sails two times in a matter of minutes. The controversial calls were made in the third period and an empty-net goal sealed off any attempt at a comeback. It wasn’t in the cards Friday but the Blues believe they will have the necessary response on Sunday.
“We are going to put it behind us like we did the first game,” said captain David Backes. “We have a lot of great efforts from a lot of great guys in this room that are putting it all on the line, picking each other up. We have to put it all behind us, calls, whatever, go into a hostile environment and play a great road game and try to find a way to win games in their building. It’s not going to be pretty; it never is.”
While the game was overshadowed by the officiating and heated emotions, Backes said it was a different feeling on the bench. That feeling extended to the locker room following the game and Backes believes it will carry its way to Chicago with the team.
Fans will be hesitant to buy in to this claim after three consecutive first-round exits by the Blues, but the captain seemed to be sincere, which is tough demeanor to have considering the circumstances.
“The atmosphere and the way this group has responded with our attitude to stay with our game is what we need to do,” said Backes. “It’s what we haven’t done in past years and even in a loss, there are some great signs that we have our stuff together and we are going to have a great response Sunday.
“No one is panicking. No one is turning to the guy next to him and pointing fingers. It’s everyone picking each other up.”
And should we expect different results over the rest of the series? The players seem to think so. After all, the regular season was riddles with trials, so the team should have plenty of experience with tough situations.
“No question,” responded Backes. “I think, with that adversity we faced it was a feeling on the bench that was calm and collected and we know we are going to keep playing our game and the results are going to come. That’s what we have done all year. We didn’t let anything, the atmosphere, the pressure, the stage get to us. We stayed the course and that’s a good sign for our group.
“We have the mentality you need to have. It wasn’t ‘we are getting screwed’ or some of the mindsets or rhetoric that have come out in past years. It’s we are going to stay the course, we are going to play our game and it will give us good results, the way it has all year. And that’s a belief system and we are dialed in and I love the feeling in here. We feel we are in the right position.”
But the Blues are going to have to start finding ways to put the Blackhawks down and keep them there because talk is cheap and because one-goal games are rarely going to be won against the defending champions. The execution level has to be raised and Hitchcock said the players have to “dig in” for a long and grueling series that many times will pepper the team with adversity.
“The approach is one thing but we need the mindset that we are going to go deeper,” said Hitchcock. “We played a very good hockey game and we lost, and calls didn’t go our way. The calls at the end of the game, the penalty that shouldn’t have been that ended up being our penalty, we are going to have to fight through that stuff. And, if that’s what it takes, we are going to have to pay that price to beat this team.
“We are going to have to decide how deep we are willing to dig and I think there is a group in there that is willing to go even further and we are going to have to push for it.”
While Sunday’s Game 3 isn’t the be-all, end-all, it is vital. Falling behind in the series against a team that knows how to put opponents away would be disconcerting, especially without home ice as a crutch. That means the Blues have to put Game 2 behind them and do so rather quickly or watch things spiral out of control as they have in the past.
“We are upset but we can’t let it get in the way of what we are going to have to do,” said Hitchcock. “We are going to have to dig a little deeper than we even realized but I think after (Game 2), we found out we have to go even further than we thought we did.”
It’s one thing to outlast the Blackhawks; it’s another to push aside the extra elements going against the team’s goal. The solution? Just be better.
“If we are going to knock them off, we are going to have to be better,” said Hitchcock. “If we are the same, it’s going to go to them every time. We have to be better. There are elements of our game that we can be better in. We just have to address it and then dig in and do it.”
“We have to find a way,” said Backes. “We can’t use excuses. We are a great team in here and this is going to be a great series.”